Burlington Gardens has currently been taken over with a solo exhibition by Mariko Mori, the first museum exhibition of her work in London in nearly 15 years. It’s nice to have the RA back in the Burlington Gardens’ space. They will be using this building in a regular exhibition programme over the next six years before David Chipperfield excitingly joins this with the main building on Piccadilly.
Mariko Mori aims to inspire people in a new consciousness that celebrates our existing balance with nature, and reflects on universal themes of life, death and rebirth. Fittingly entitled Rebirth the exhibition will start and end with the death and birth of a star, raising questions about the cycle of life. Poignantly, the show opened when the Ancient Mayans had predicted the world was coming to an end. So, the exhibition was aptly timed to mark either the end of the world or the birth of a new era.
Mariko Mori’s Rebirth at the Royal Academy. Image via www.bbc.co.uk.
This exhibition certainly makes an initial impact. Popping in late one afternoon, I was guided by an attendant with a torch into the first room where I was confronted by an amazing globule of light – a five-metre high glass monolith, standing in isolation in a simple white space (I believe the colour of the light changes). Another visitor was interacting with the object, moving closer and then edging back, seemingly unsure as to how the light was working. He seemed convinced that he was activating it as he pranced around the room.
But, Tom Na H-iu is lit from within by hundreds of LED lights and is operated in response to real-time data from an observatory at the University of Tokyo. Now I’m not really up with the scientific lingo but apparently the observatory detects neutrinos emitted by the sun, the earth’s atmosphere and, during a supernova, the work reflects these, in constantly changing light patterns. As my fellow visitor showed you can still enjoy this work without any understanding of Mori’s principles. The pieces are mesmerising and the fading light captivates us but we can make our own decisions and assumptions about rebirth and the universe. This powerful start raised the bar for the remainder of the exhibition. Then nothing quite matched up to my expectations.
The exhibition was practically deserted and my stilettos reverberated on the wooden floors. I think the silence and lack of people helped to create a mysterious atmosphere and the dim lighting enhanced the supernatural feel.
The paintings and drawings fall short throughout; it is the installations that are fairly impressive. Transcircle is Mori’s own Stonehenge with nine totemic objects arranged in a circle. The glowing colours of the stone are seen at varying levels of brightness and the colours change depending on the position of the planets in the course of the year. We’re meant to be made to feel something, to have an experience; other artists have been much more successful in moving me though. There’s not enough power here. Let’s be honest, people like this kind of art because it’s aesthetically pleasing and a bit twee. In terms of comparing it to things I’ve seen recently, it’s not quite there.
There’s an optimistic feel to the spiritual reasoning behind the exhibition. The RA hopes this exhibition will make people slow down and contemplate our responsibilities. Mori wants us to stop and think. We’re Londoners – are we really going to slow down and give these sculptures the time they deserve? Probably not. I know I wasn’t able to spend more than a few minutes with the light sculptures.
For me, Mori’s works and this exhibition are lacking. The works are aesthetically beautiful but they do not have the roughness and awe that I get from seeing the real Stonehenge. There’s no sense that I’m viewing something truly incredible. This exhibition is a bit too neat and clinical. The works are pretty and leave us smiling; I did enjoy it but possibly not for the right reasons considering how serious Mori wishes to be.
We leave the exhibition past Ring, a Lucite circle which hangs above an artificial waterfall. The work has a meditative feel and maybe we do slow down and walk back into the madness of Mayfair a little bit calmer. However, maybe that feeling was down to knowing it was time for a Friday evening glass of champagne.